Recap: Trixie Stone’s life and that of her parents turn upside down when she comes home from a party, telling them her boyfriend, Jason, just raped her. Trixie’s father, Daniel, reverts back to the days before he was married, bursting with anger, ready to rage. Trixie’s mother, Laura, is full of guilt, wondering if this ever would have happened had she not had a recent affair with one of the TA’s from the college-level literature course she teaches.
As if things couldn’t get any worse, Jason, an all-star hockey player and student, is found dead days later, after seemingly jumping from a bridge in town. But it soon turns into a murder case, and since the whole town knows about the alleged rape, they are quick to blame Trixie. The question of whether Trixie’s assault was actually rape is replaced by the question of who killed Jason? And unfortunately, the Stones don’t come across as being particularly reliable sources of information.
Analysis: Jodi Picoult is very Jodi Picoult with this novel, weaving the stories back and forth between the perspectives of Trixie, Daniel, Laura, Jason and the detective working the case. Interestingly, she also uses illustrations to show a different interpretation of what’s happening.
The novel is heavily influenced by the symbolism and story of Dante’s Inferno. It’s Laura’s favorite book to teach, and it just so happens to be what she’s teaching when her life starts to fall apart. Together, all the characters seems to be stirring around in their own form of Hell. Daniel is an comic strip writer and illustrator, so he uses his wife’s love of with Inferno to create a comic strip named The Tenth Circle. There are only nine circles of Hell, but Daniel’s personal Hell runs deeper, so he adds a layer. His comic strip winds up being semi-autobiographical and centers on a middle-aged man who must fight his way through ten circles of Hell to save his daughter. Those images are used throughout the book as a metaphorical story within the story.
I love the way Picoult intertwined all these other subplots with the comic strip. I also loved that The Tenth Circle (the novel, not the comic strip) takes place during the winter in cold settings, emphasizing a contrast with Hell.
The problem with the book is its ending. It’s fairly anti-climatic and predictable with one very obvious line foreshadowing the answer to the “whodunit” in the murder case. It also ends, more or less, with the climax and no resolution. During the middle section of the novel, I couldn’t put the book down. After all that build, the ending felt disappointing for a story otherwise so well told.
MVP: Daniel. He must face his past to save his future, and while the metaphors and symbolism are heavy and obvious, they work. He does what he must to save his family, and while he has a dark side, he keeps it in check.